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The first is injury. In the run-up to Rio, she went through 24 Produnovas a day, operating on what was described as the "inversion sprain of her right ankle. At the last world championships I fell three times.
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I had practiced so hard, despite that I fell. My coach told me, 'Beta, even an Olympic champion can fall. Make a mistake and fall down. People have their ideas and that's up to them. He was a three-time national champion, who had represented India in ten-odd international competitions, including the Asian and CWG. The women's programme was the short straw.
What can you possibly do with them? Only the boys were praised, never the girls. Ten years later, the council was to send him a prodigy who had won a balance beam gold medal at the North Eastern Games beating older gymnasts. The girl had first appeared under his wife Soma's care, aged around five, at Agartala's nursery for gymnasts, the Vivekananda Byamagar gymnasium. Her father Dulal had a fleeting affair with gymnastics himself when in middle school, after being mesmerized by Russian, German and Chinese gymnasts holding dazzling demonstrations in Agartala.
Their sudden appearance in this neck of the woods is part of local folklore. Long hours of practice after a long walk from home and demanding teachers proved too much for Dulal and he quit after a year.
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Many moons later, when trying to figure out how to direct the energies of his younger child into something other than frolic, gymnastics seemed a sobering option. She would say, 'Madam yeh karao, complete nahin hua. No matter how long it took. Not every girl has this quality. It was a hunger to get it right.
Nandi saw another advantage - that she could be fed the right kind of diet at her weightlifter-father's home. Nandi still warns her parents that if she puts on even a kilo above 47kg, he will hold them responsible. Dipa's flatfoot problem was handled through a set of exercises that work on a child's developing physiology. Nandi knew early that she could take on gradually increased training loads. Her zeal for defeating her own errors in training has only grown; her desire to be as complete and perfect a gymnast as she can fuels her vision and ambition.
At 15 she first saw her hero, the Russian-American gymnast Nastia Lukin, compete first hand at a world championships. Then my next thought was, we should also be doing this. Nandi says, "When a child has to do any difficult exercise, the first thing in their mind is, Suppose I get hurt, suppose I fall? We had taken Dipa to exercises at such speed that of course, there was some confusion in her mind.
ESPN That fearlessness has stayed all through the introduction of the Produnova but what about the other apparatus? Coach and student both laugh.
It is mandatory for all women gymnasts to display their skills on four apparatus: The beam is Dipa's No. She says she tries to keep an open mind about the floor: When I don't do it properly I kind of feel bad and cry that it's not turning out like it should. When first heard, it is easy to giggle because it is merely a mispronunciation of a familiar English word: The rules expand on this: In addition to the technical execution, artistic harmony and feminine grace must also be considered.
It is not only "what" the gymnast performs, but also "how" she performs her routine. That idea in women's gymnastics is, however, almost heretical. Men's and women's gymnastics, says the American coach Jim Holt, are separate entities. He was quoted as saying he had said he wished Dipa were a boy, but clarifies it was "only a couple of times". I meant it as a compliment to her personally - and as an incentive to the men to emulate or surpass her example.
Dulal who's spent a lot of time hearing about the advantage of fathering boys, says, "What's the big deal? Girls are doing more than boys, anyway. ESPN The girls have given their coach new energy and a fresh mission.
Nandi says, "If I get a chance, get support from the government, if I am healthy, I want to take two or three girls to the next Olympics in It is my dream. Agartala is abuzz, pulled asunder by the demands of development. Roads have been dug up, paths around them form small swamps as the monsoon has arrived. What Agartala hopes will emerge is a series of flyovers that, like their gymnasts, will lift them over the crush of their daily life.
Dipa vaults on to the biggest stage
There's a word that is used frequently when talking of Dipa's career. We took a bit of a risk Riks lena padega. You will have to take the risk. Riks liya is liye medal jita, Olympics qualify hua. She took the risk and that's why she won the medal and qualified for the Olympics.
The word itself has in fact been turned on its head - an English mispronunciation turning into a common Bengali colloquialism. Bengalis say, with amusement, that the phrase most often used and which sums up the cautious side of their natureis "riks nebo na". I will not take the risk.
Tripura gymnastics has always challenged that very thought. So much so, if generations of Tripura's gymnasts were to create their own coat of arms, their motto in Copperplate Gothic font would read: I will risk it It starts with their decades-old choice of apparatus - the vault.
A short, sharp burst of speed and explosive power, the vault has no strictures unlike other apparatus that require the sustained exhibition of a series of skills and elements over anything between thirty and 90 seconds.
The vault is all get-go: Mantu Debnath, India's first Arjuna Award winner in gymnastics and Tripura's most famous gymnast before Dipa, who competed for a decade from the mids onwards, says the vault's popularity has much to do with necessity and improvisation. Not like the other events that require ten elements performed in a group. They also needed secure landing facilities, which we never had. In the s and early s, Debnath and his colleagues, including Nandi, would improvise their landing area.
Debnath remembers making double somersaults off the vault into lakes or talaabs ponds. Water was our secure landing area. Her dramatic rise in fact signals Tripura's revival in national gymnastics. While gymnastics has always been, to use an Indian governmentism, a non-priority sport, it was, for Tripura, territory they owned for more than two decades - particularly at junior level. The state would clean up the national school, sub-juniors, juniors and senior titles - team, all-round individual apparatus.
From the mids Tripura's gymnasts arrived across India in bewildering profusion - picking up medals, securing government jobs, a domino effect that moved around the state for nearly two decades. This dominance owes its genesis and cultivation to an unlikely hero: Dalip Singh, an army man and gymnast from Haryana, was dispatched in from the National Institute of Sport NIS in Patiala, Punjab, kms east to see what could be done with gymnastics and Tripura.
Dalip Singh seated right with his gymnastics class before making the trek to Tripura. No one knows why Dalip Singh was sent after this, or indeed why gymnastics was even on the radar. By the time he was done, Tripura had swept Indian gymnastics for nearly two decades, the Haryanvi was adopted by the state as their own, he had married a Manipuri girl and his name turned legend.
There is only one photograph commonly available for Dalip Singh. It looks like a mugshot blown up and photoshopped onto a cyan background, a broad unsmiling man giving nothing away. His story, though is everywhere, passing through generations of the state's gymnastics community - and it is a large one.
Manik Saha, currently the "founder vice-president" of the Tripura Gymnastics Association, remembers Dalip Singh's earliest proselytising missions. Then he came looking for local sports 'organisers' to induct them into setting up an state gymnastics body. Debnath was one of those boys inducted into the sport, drawn in by the force of Singh's personality: Debnath lists a string of titles won by Tripura's gymnasts and the numbers appear unreal: By Saha's calculation, the structure Singh put in place yielded 16 international gymnasts, including four in the six-member Indian team for the Asian Games.
Singh began where they all do even now - where Dipa has, her coach Nandi and his senior Debnath had. The Vivekananda gymnasium is what it has always been. In the heart of Agartala, it is every aspiring gymnast's nursery - a low, long structure with a brick frontage and asbestos roof; two-thirds of the space inside dedicated to weightlifting and bodybuilding, one-third to gymnastics.
Dalip Singh took a look at the body-building and weightlifting equipment available and decide he could make do - horizontal bars, parallel bars, some floor space. Saha remembers a wood pyramidal box, 6ftx2ft, which became a vaulting box.
Intense concentration as Dipa's heirs go through their paces. ESPN Within a year of his arrival, Tripura was to win its first national gold medal - any sport, any level - through Bharat Kishore Debbarman on the floor exercises at the national school games.
InDebbarman was to win the all-round national juniors title. Within the first ten years, Singh conducted two senior nationals in Agartala and invited foreign gymnasts from Russia, Germany and China to stage demonstrations held on the Umakanta Academy ground.
Saha and Debnath remember there being close to 40, spectators; halve the number and it is still pretty impressive for Agartala in those days. Dulal Karmakar was one of those tens of thousands. As soon as the medals began piling up, the state sat up and paid attention: How are these men flying? He said fine, start coming from tomorrow.
Singh died in aged only In an exquisite twist of fate, she is a very short walk from the home where Dipa grew up. A practicing pathologist even today, she was busy running her house and practice while her husband ran first Tripura's gymnastics and then all of state sports. She's not a sports person but she does know a few things, "My husband's influence on the sport transferred from generation to generation: It has moved from coach to gymnast to gymnast-coach to the next gymnast.
Who in turn gets telephone calls from Rishita Saha, a year-old who is perfecting the flight element between the asymmetrical bars at the Vivekananda Byamagar.
When she goes out of the country, I ask her about her experiences, what she has seen. On a June afternoon at the Byamagar, boys and girls around kindergarten age are walking on their hands and tumbling over padded mats stretched out over grass and mud. They are watched by mothers hunkered down under a shelter near the boundary wall. It is exam time, which is why only the youngest of the odd gymnasts, aged 4-and-a-half to 13 ,are around. Inside the Byamagar, some gymnastics apparatus - the asymmetrical bars, the roman rings, parallel bars, balance beam - is crammed into the small space.
Dipa vaults on to the biggest stage
There are signs of construction here, too, because finally, new toilets are being built for those who use the Byamagar. Next to the parallel bars lie bricks, sacks of cement. Not much has changed since Dipa started out here more than a decade ago. ESPN This is no spacious, airy, air-conditioned gymnastics hall with an expanse of floor to work through a routine. For floor training, the padded mats will be carried outside and spread out by the trainees and teachers.
When it rains, everyone crowds indoors and spreads out mats on the narrow corridor of floor space available and work on their handsprings and flic flacs the reverse handspring. The entire length of the corridor from weightlifting to the new toilets is just about as long as a vaulting runway.